December 30, 2011

So this is happening...

I was sent this video because it caused the person to think of me.

Here's my submission.

I've only been running this site since last April, but I feel strongly about this being something I could do forever.  It's fun, always entertaining, and I get to drive new & different cars.  Shooting the videos is just gravy on the top.  Thank you for all your support.  Good Luck to everyone who submitted a video. 

December 27, 2011

2012 VW Beetle

2012 Volkswagen Beetle Turbo

Base Price: $19,795
As Driven: $24,730
Engine: 2.0L Turbo-charged 4-cylinder
Transmission: 6 speed Automated Manual
Curb Weight: 3,089 lbs.
Wheelbase: 99.9 in.
MPG Rating: 22 city, 30 highway

Here is the video of the Beetle & me.  There's way too much me and not enough Beetle...  Just a heads up.

All in all, the Beetle was a fun little car to drive.  Rear visibility was limited, but very fixable.  The ride was rough due to the sport suspension, but the turbo really helped this little car to be quick. The Auxiliary Input is the same as a headphone jack, but I was really hoping for a USB connection.  The front seat was spacious, but all the seat controls were manual.  The auto up/auto down windows were nice to have on this mildly moist day.  On a side note, I'm been waiting quite a while to use the word "moist."  Check that off the bucket list!  Thank you for stopping by Every Man's Auto.  We really appreciate every one of you, except the creepy guy who won't stop staring...  No means no.

December 22, 2011

Ford Explorer

Base Price :$28,280
As Driven: $45,675
Engine: 3.5L V6- 290 horsepower
Transmission: 6 speed shiftable automatic
Curb Weight: 4557 lbs.
Wheelbase: 112.6 in.
MPG Rating: 19 city/22 highway

Here is the video review of the Ford Explorer.

I enjoyed the Explorer. It felt quick, light, and got better mileage than the Denali (What doesn't get better mileage than the Denali?!?!?). Hope you enjoyed the review. This was way more work than the usual pictures and words. I'm working on a couple more (Countryman and New Beetle) and will try to post them as soon as possible. Thank you for all your support.

-Chris & Staff

December 9, 2011

Abarth Commercial & more

When Fiat unveiled the 500 Abarth at the LA Auto Show (@LAAutoShow), they also released this commercial.  I love creative things and this has just enough originality to peak my interest, plus an Italian supermodel.  Enjoy!

Check out this short flick of parallel parking in NYC.  Watch the minivan move too!

December 8, 2011

Hyundai Veloster

Base price: $18,550
As Driven: $23,635
Engine: 1.6 L DOHC 4 cylinder
Transmission: 6 speed automated manual
Curb Weight: 2,657 lbs.
Wheelbase: 104.3 in.
MPG rating: 29city, 38 hwy

Concept cars infest auto shows.  Normally we treat them with awe, wonder, and then disdain since we’ll never see them again.  The Veloster still looks like a concept car.
Depending on which color you want on the inside determines which color you get on the outside.  The black interior comes with seven exterior color options.  The gray interior comes with five options and the red/black interior comes with only three choices.
                The shape of the Veloster is interesting.  It has the sweeping curves that the industry applies to almost all concept vehicles, but also has the sharp angles of modern design.  The fender flares over the wheels look fantastic. This car looks like it was designed in the wind tunnel and then they just ran out of money, so this is what we got.  On the front end just below the headlamps there’s an indention that looks like it would just trap air.  It’s a pretty significant space.  Think about someone accidentally stumbling on the Grand Canyon.    
                From the left side of the car, the Veloster is a two door coupe.  From the right side, it’s a four door sedan.  It only has three doors for those of you struggling with the Math.  This is another design feature that makes the Veloster feel rushed or underfunded.  If they were worried that a Coupe would only sell to single adults or couples without kids, adding a third door only adds couples with one or less kids.  The three door design does give the Veloster something that other sporty coupes don’t have and in the long run doesn’t cost Hyundai very much to produce. 
The reflection of the plastic on the interior of the doors makes the side mirrors look like they’re coated in carbon fiber.  It made me laugh pretty hard a couple of times.

The rear glass is yet another example of style over function.  I can’t stand the trend of splitting hatchback rear windows.  The only one that you look out of in the Veloster is the lower one.  The upper one does nothing to improve visibility out the back.  As far as I can tell it’s there to help you destroy any below average height vampires you might have captured in the backseat.  It just lets in more light and the rear seat isn’t very big, for those of you who didn’t get the last analogy. 
                There is a panoramic sunroof.  For $2,000 you can add the Style package which includes the sunroof.  It is really large and doesn’t encroach on the head room.  Between the sunroof and the rear glass, the Veloster is a rolling green house or a modern Euro-building; glass everywhere.
                The interior was really nice for a fuel efficient coupe-sedan.  What do you call a 3-door car?  Clown car?  That’s what we’re going with!  The inside of this clown car is comfortable, roomy in the front, and has the right amount of technology. 
The 7 in. multimedia display is a touch screen and has a number of features from GPS to the ability to stream Pandora with you Bluetooth-enabled device. 
The sound system was impressive, or really just the graphic that allowed me to move the focal point of the sound around the car.  You can focus it on each individual passenger seat.  Picture that annoying friend who can’t stop talking.  I know, that’s me, for a lot of you…  But when they won’t stop, you just direct all of the sound system to their seat effectively canceling out their noise.  It’s just a thought…  My suggestion for the sound system would be the Attack the Block soundtrack, bass beats, electronic everything else; it really fits this car.  If you haven’t seen Attack the Block, you are missing out.  British teenagers repelling alien invaders, what could be better? 
I had plenty of room as the driver.  In this vehicle there are not many people over 5’2” that are going to want to sit behind me.  The front two seats are roomy and can access the technology of the touch screen.  The backseat is a squeeze and doomed to the fate of relying on the front two to choose the music and temp.  For more backseat jokes, click here.

                I don’t think anyone is going to buy a Veloster based on the driving experience alone.  Hyundai has figured out how to get 138 horsepower out of a 1.6L four cylinder engine though.  Other comparable 1.6L engines are only turning out 110 or so…  That’s a pretty significant difference.  Hyundai is also claiming that the Veloster can achieve 40 mpg on the highway.  I didn’t have mine long enough to really put this to the test.  Based on changing interstates and having to slow down and speed up, I didn’t get to 40.  I was in the mid-30’s though.
                The city mpg number is 29.  Pretty much you’re going to be somewhere around 30 no matter where you are driving.  The thirty extra horsepower won’t hurt anything either.
The Veloster isn’t slow and it looks fast, which is a great combination.  The overall price is closer to economy car then sports car.  It is a very reasonable price as long as you don’t want four doors.  I’ve already thought about making a kid climb through the rear hatch as the fourth door; it could work. 
The Veloster is headed for a niche market.  One that I hope hangs around mainly because this car entertained me.  I wasn’t bored with it.  There are always something to do, whether I was laughing at it or fiddling with all the tech on the touch screen.  Definitely give this one a look, if you are looking for a conversation starter.

December 3, 2011

Top Gear Live review

What's not to love?!?!  Supercars, squealing tires, and bombastic personalities.  London was great.  The public transportation system worked perfectly for me.  I can't tell you how much it pains me to write about public transportation working well.  Like spilling your ice cream cone on the ground, getting another one, only to have it happen again... 

Everyone I met in London was very nice.  Then again, I didn't talk to any one in the human trafficking trade.  Most of the people I spoke with were shocked that I had come all the way from the States just to see Top Gear Live.

The live arena show was fantastic!  Fire, a supercar beauty pageant, car curling, and a chariot race using mopeds all added together for an adrenaline filled hour of automotive magic.  If you want more updates on Top Gear Live as they travel the world with this show, follow Rowland French (@RowlandFrench on Twitter).  Let him know I sent you; he's a good chap.

The track show was impressive.  A large collection of Group B rally cars, the Stig, and lots of drifting.  Paul Swift actually made a lap of their indoor track on 2 wheels.  It was quite impressive.

Hope you enjoy the highlights.  Thank you to everyone who helped make this a reality.

November 16, 2011

Nancy Gioia Interview

Interview with Ford Motor Company's Director of Global Electrification, Nancy Gioia

I was delighted to have the opportunity to talk with Ms. Gioia. I was concerned that someone near the top of Ford's food chain might be a bit of an EV/hybrid zealot, but was pleased to find Ms. Gioia well informed and easy to talk to.

CT:         What was your first car?
NG:     The first car I owned was a '78 Chevy Chevette. It did everything. I found it very easy to use, easy to drive. It got me back and forth from university. It was something I could always count on. That’s the fun thing about cars; the journeys and the experiences you have with family and friends. Along the way... the things you see. Whether it's a long distance trip with the cooler in the back, or back and forth to school every day. I once ran to the Chevette to escape a mugger -- an exciting experience, but the car took me away and safe. That’s what people want; safety, security, something you can always count on, but still fun to drive. This is something I focus on with all the cars I’m a part of, whether it’s the 2002 Thunderbird or the 2010 Fusion. It’s the experience. It's not just about A to B; it’s having fun during the journey too, while being safe, durable, reliable, and affordable.

CT:      Why are we seeing more electric emphasis and not Hydrogen or Natural Gas right now?
NG:     For future sustainability, obviously consumers want better and better fuel efficiency; reduce the costs. Governments want energy security, and whether or not you believe in climate change or not, we can all agree that using less energy is the smart thing. Now at Ford, we happen to believe climate change is real. We’ve actually done a look globally of our fleet and we’ve taken the amount of CO2 as a surrogate, we’ve broken it out by region. We’ve looked at our fleet in those regions and we’ve said OK, we’re going to do our part. We’ve identified CO2 reduction targets for each of our products. And what that leads us to do is then also not just look tank to wheels, just the vehicle attribute, but we actually look at well to wheels in our analysis. When we did that what became obvious is we now have to understand where the source of the fuels comes from. In our future plans, electrification is one of the few fuels we see global alignment around to make available to consumers. In North America and Europe we see the utilities moving towards a cleaner grid. When we looked at those two combinations, electrification and for us that means hybrids, plug-ins hybrids, and full-on electrics.

Natural gas, when you do the CO2 equation, is better used to displace coal in electrical plants than gasoline in cars. The great news is that coal plants can convert to natural gas without having to re-engineer the entire plant. We see natural gas as a good solution in situations where a company has a fleet of vehicles that stay within a certain region, and therefore only needs the gas distribution infrastructure in a couple of places. For light duty transportation or cars that may have to go greater distances, with the cost to build the infrastructure to increase the availability of natural gas, we don’t see that as globally aligned – or even nationally aligned.

As for biofuels – biodiesels and ethanol. You really have to get the cellulosic ethanol for it to make sense from a CO2 basis. Otherwise, there’s still just too much carbon in the whole process. However, we certainly see biofuels becoming a large portion in the mix over time.

Hydrogen has the challenge of not only the fuel cell technology and its great expense, but the lack of infrastructure.

Ultimately, we have to consider how fast the world can transition from one power source to the next. Electrification, whether it’s a self-regenerating hybrid that does not have to plug into the grid, or plug-in hybrids and full electrics, we see a good combination of that across the world.

CT:      How is Ford setting itself up to be apart from the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt?
NG:     Our strategy is fundamentally different than most of the competition. Instead of doing a one-off vehicle, we are electrifying our highest-volume global platforms. For us, that’s really important because Ford believes in affordable transportation for the masses. We may do a low-volume electric car as an introduction, and it may make a difference for those few buyers, but it will not make a difference for the masses. We do not want to impact only a few, but many. We’ve electrified, for example, our C-sized vehicle platform. On that platform are Focus, C-max, C-max Energy, Transit Connect, and Transit Connect Electric, which you drove. Those are all built on that same platform, meaning the underpinnings are the same, with different bodies. We’ve produced over ten different vehicles on that same platform – over 2 million units per year. So, when we electrify the platform – hybrid, plugin, and battery electric – we electrify it across the whole line of vehicles that are based on that platform. It’s a great use of our engineering assets. Also, because they’re built down on same line, we can easily cross-train the factory workers that build them. But it’s not only the capital asset re-use, it’s also the supply base. We actually take it to a level lower at Ford – which is unique from our competition. Our hybrids and plug-in hybrids share all of the same components (with the exception of the battery -- the battery cells are different and the size of the battery is different). The transaxle, the electric motor, the electronics – all of those components are identical. Not similar; identical! So the Fusion hybrid and the C-max Energy hybrid share most of their components. That larger-scale scale use of components in turn helps affordability. It also builds a more sustainable business for our suppliers. So by electrifying our C platform, we’ve electrified our CD platform: the Fusion, the Mondeo.

Ten different cars on one main platform – again, just short of 2 million units globally. Depending on what cars are built and sold in each region, we can easily bring that technology to the region because we build the same vehicle globally.

So, the Focus Electric – it’s a hoot to drive. The ride, the handling, the steering – it’s a real car. Rather than feeling like a Science experiment, it rides, handles, and steers responsively, just like a Focus. One of the things we that we want to do is de-mystify the technology. We don’t want the customer to hop in the car and say, “How do I have to drive this different?” Granted, you have to charge it, which is different from gassing up, but the driving experience is the same. One of the barriers of accepting new technology is not only the question of affordability, but is it so different that no one is willing to try it? What we’re trying to do is make the driving experience, “Wow, this is really cool to drive!”

CT:      Globally, where are markets that are emerging for Electric Vehicles, and which markets aren’t ready yet?
NG:     With an electric vehicle, you’re adding a battery, motors, electronics, and for the plug-in hybrids and hybrids you have combination of conventional power and electric power. A battery electric car uses a much bigger battery, which is very expensive. We find affordability to be the primary challenge. For example, China’s electrical supply is being stretched because of the amount of economic growth they have. But they do have some really dense megacities. In the future, we envision more of these megacities, in which transportation solutions will require different approaches – a combination of public transportation and personal mobility. Electrification may make a lot of sense in areas with limited driving distances; in areas where you have very, very long distances, full electrics don’t make as much sense, but plug-ins, hybrids, or even Ecoboost engines may.

Where we see full electrics being adopted first is by more affluent customers. They typically have a garage and the resources to add the required charging infrastructure. They may have other vehicles, so it’s not necessarily their only car. It could be the one they use for city driving, then they have other vehicles that they use for long distance driving or towing and load hauling. North America is one of the biggest markets of electrified vehicles; with hybrids dominating that. Japan has incentivized electric vehicles, and they continue today on hybrids. In Japan today, hybrids or full electric vehicles constitute about 10% of their vehicle fleet. In North America, hybrids, plug-ins, and electrics represent about 2.3%. Korea (South) is also growing.

When I travel to South America, which is dominated by Brazil’s market, and therefore dominated by ethanol, you don’t really see electrification happening there. They have a wonderful fuel source from the sugar cane, and they’re likely going to remain that way. Other parts of South America don’t have the affluence to afford electrification, so they’re looking at A, B, and sub-B cars; C-sized are probably the largest.

In Europe, several countries are interested. France, with its huge nuclear power infrastructure, in combination with Renault, PSA, and others, is trying to make France a center of full electrics. There’s also lots of interest in London. In the Nordic countries, we see higher incentive levels that are encouraging electrification.

It’s really looking at driving patterns, how customers use the vehicles. Are there lots of hills or no hills? Mountains or no mountains? Average speeds? The one thing we see is fuel diversity will continue to about 2050. Consumers really understanding how they use the vehicle, what they need for their personal mobility, and matching the right technology to their needs, is the challenge that we have as automakers. That’s a huge learning challenge we have going forward.

CT:      Kansas City is very spread out and you can clock close to 100 miles a day here, if you’re not careful. What would you suggest for KC residents?
NG:     A full battery electric may not be the right choice for you. Your better, more sustainable solution could be the plug-in hybrid. If you do most of your driving during the day, and you drive less than 30 miles per day, and then on weekends or 2-3 times a week, you have much longer distances to go, that plug-in hybrid might be the best solution. If you do a lot of urban driving, but more frequent highway driving then the hybrid is right for you. If you have a load hauling or towing need, then Ecoboost. Gas turbo direct injection on a downsized engine. The F-150 is a great example, fantastic performance with 20% better fuel efficiency. In my driveway, I have a Lincoln MKZ hybrid and an F-150 Ecoboost. We have two horses and a horse trailer, and the performance is wonderful. Also, for people carrying or load carrying, we have the Transit Connect Electric. It’s a fantastic urban delivery vehicle; fun to drive, quiet – it does everything.

To appeal to the mass market, we’re going to have to drive the cost of the components down.  Scale is important and technology is important, so we spend a lot of time researching and developing for technology evolution. We also spend a lot of time modeling and helping customers understand what’s the best technology for them.

CT:      How is Ford looking to get involved with North American infrastructure for electric vehicles?
NG:     We’ve developed collaborations with many of the utilities. Kansas City Power & Light is one. Across the entire country, there are about 3,000 utilities. We started building partnerships with utilities years ago with our electric vehicle work in the 70’s and 80’s. We expanded that with the Ford Plug-in Project, which we kicked off in 2007, where we made some plug-in hybrid Escapes. For that, we partnered with 12 utilities across North America, and we’ve learned some great lessons. The Department of Energy and Electric Power Research Institute were also a part of that. We’ve also brought in Best Buy. If you go to a Ford dealership and buy a plug-in vehicle, we have an arrangement. When a consumer says, “I’d like to get a home charger installed,” we ask “Would you like to do that through Best Buy?” The Geek Squad comes out and handles all the assessment, permitting, and installation, including communication of customer needs with the local electrical utility. If you have three or four of them on a street, then the utility is ahead of the curve and can address any issues that may occur at a local distribution point. It’s all about collaboration and unlike no other time, with the new fuel providers and equipment installers.

We’re also working with Microsoft. They are doing cloud data computing, working with utilities to get access to data like what it costs to charge, dollars per kilowatt hours. In the Focus, whether you’re in your car, at your computer, on your smart phone, or at your charging station, you can say “Charge at the lowest possible cost.” If the utilities are a part of this effort, then it can assure your car is charged for you in time at the lowest possible rate. It’s way cool! Another MyFord mobile feature: you can punch in the places you want to go to your smart phone, it communicates with the car, and it will say “Oh, you added the pizza shop, you aren’t going to be able to make it.” The car will then give you a route recommendation, tell you that if you turn off the A/C or heater, you’ll have enough power, or where the charge stations are, and how long you will need to charge to make it home. One of the things with full electric vehicles is managing range anxiety. We want to take the anxiety away by giving tools to the consumer.

There are lots of things coming out in the future with connectivity that we need to make available as we plug vehicles in, such as reserving charge stations. We’re working with all of the partners to develop solutions that are both affordable and available. We want to charge safely, easily, and affordably. We want to make sure that the infrastructure is installed at the right time, not sitting there empty. Charge at home or charge at work. The lowest priority is public charging. The last area we work on is standards – standards that are as common as possible between North America and Europe. Europe has really started to develop standards with the SAE and IEC to make sure the plug between North America and Europe has some commonality. Why is that important? As always, affordability.

CT:      Tesla has the electric sports car. Are we going to see a Mustang Electric?
NG:     Can it be done? Absolutely. Does it make sense for the customer? When there’s customer desire for it, we have the technology. In the sports car market and the luxury car market, you still have to meet the underlying customer want.

CT:      What is the 5 year strategic plan?
NG:     My plans go out to 2050. Five years are lock and load. Out to ten years our cycle plans are complete. This goes back to our fundamental strategy. We will have five new electric vehicles on the road ten years from now. Today we have the Fusion hybrid, the Escape, and next year we will launch the C-max and C-max energy. We already launched Transit Connect Electric in 2010, and later this year, the Focus Electric.

In our next generation of hybrids, we take another 30% of the cost of the electrified system out. So when we launched the Fusion hybrid in 2009, from the original Escape we took 30% of the cost out. We launch the next generation hybrid in 2012, and we’re taking 30% of the cost out. We’re doing that through technology, architecture, and scale. Scale is starting to become a part of this. Fundamentally, we want to deliver the better fuel efficiency than any of our competition.

Our other strategy is to electrify our highest volume platforms, reuse the components, and then develop them based on the segment draw around the globe. Today about 1% of Ford’s global fleet is electrified. By 2020 10% to 25% of our fleet will be electric. That’s a pretty big range, but if you’re at 1% going to 10%, let alone all the way to 25%, that’s a big change. Of that 10 to 25% we see about 70% hybrids, because they’re the most affordable, easiest to use in the broadest number of applications, and globally applicable in a way that’s not tied to infrastructure. 20 to 25% will be plug-in hybrids. We see that as less infrastructure, for example C-max Energy recharges in 3 to 4 hours on a 110 outlet. You don’t need a special charger for it. We designed it that way on purpose. We wanted less infrastructure cost for the consumer. We think it’s a great match for people who make a number of short trips, but need a little longer range. The remainder will be full electric. Full electric cars will still be a small niche – the size of the battery, the cost of the battery, the charge infrastructure, and the range limitations won’t fit many consumers.

CT:      Any advice for attending the North American International Auto Show in Detroit?
NG:     Bring a pair of mittens. It’s great. It could be 40 and sunny or -20 and snowing. We’ve had both.

P.S. I am going up to Detroit. I’m not going to be there for an extended stay, but I’m going to fill my time there with as much of the show as I can and then sleep when I’m dead. There is also a Ford Fantasy Design Camp that I’m going to attend while there. Should be very interesting! It’s not every day that you meet a major manufacturer’s design team, so I’ll take what I can get.

November 10, 2011

Destination: London

We did it!  The donations and the items I sold on Craigslist, but mainly the donations, have helped to reach our budget for this trip. 

We raised enough money for a plane ticket, a single room by myself (too old for a hostel), some food, the passport renewal, and a GoPro HD Hero 2.  There is a video as soon as you load the site that is all footage from a Hero 2.  This little camera will be a huge help with our video reviews and should help us get some really great shots. 

Thank you to everyone for helping me with this opportunity.  I didn't know how many of you read this or thought it would be fun to throw money at me.  Some of you literally...  Thank you, again.

I truly appreciate it! 

I am going to try and upload pictures and videos on a daily basis over there, but we'll see how that goes.  Thank you, again!!!

November 4, 2011

Mercedes S400 Hybrid

2010 Mercedes S400 Hybrid
It's not every day that I have a chance to drive a car that costs a gnat's fart shy of $100,000. The sticker suggested $98,085, but this is new-old stock, and you might talk the slick-haired ones into a few dozen grand off. At the very least, they'll throw in a “new car” scented air freshener.
The Mercedes S class is known as the oracle-in-a-tailored-suit of the auto industry. Whatever holy-wow new tech the S class has today will trickle down to Corollas and Civics in seven to ten years.

Base price: $89,000
As Driven: $98,085
Engine: 3.5L 295-hp V6 + electric motor
Transmission: 7-speed automatic
Curb Weight: 4390 lbs.
Wheelbase: 124.6 inches
MPG rating: 19 city, 26 hwy.
The interior of this S400 lived up to that 1%er price tag. The subtle wood and alloy trim put me in mind of a high end home hi-fi system, where real materials, not faux finishes, makes the difference between good and great. It was almost unsettlingly quiet inside. On a windy day, even at highway speed, the cabin of the car was serene. The only obnoxious noise was coming from my questionable choice of radio station.
This S400 comes with Drive-Dynamic Multicontour front seats -- with massage. When I tell people about the S-class' magic fingers, almost to a person, their first comment is that the massage would put them to sleep. The massage seat is indeed comfortable, and it prodded my back juuuust right in some places that might normally get cramped and stiff on a long drive, but didn't come close to sending me into a hypnotic state of unconsciousness. The seats are a part of the P02 Premium package, which sets you back $4,950, and includes front and rear radar parking sensors, rear backup camera with parking assistance , and keyless everything (just have the smart card in your pocket).
The "Drive-Dynamic" aspect of the front seats means they adapt to driving conditions. When you take a sharp right turn, your body tends to get thrown to the left until it runs into something solid, like the Merc's vault-like door. To counter that most plebeian of experiences, the seat’s bolsters inflate and deflate to keep you perfectly placed in your seat. There are three settings for this function -- I left it in the most aggressive mode, because I was so delighted by the sensation of being hugged by my seat. When someone asks you what is so special about an S-class versus, say, a Camry, tell them about this. No more grabbing the oh-shit handle when the going gets exciting -- the Merc grabs you!
The rear seat is nearly as impressive. The boring measurement for rear legroom (42.3in) didn't mean much to me until I sat behind a driver's seat adjusted for my long legs with six inches to spare -- brilliant! Cup holders, vanity mirrors, air vents everywhere, and sun shades so my pasty skin never has to see the unguarded light of day. I could have spent very long periods of time back there -- next time I'll find someone to drive me around to get the full experience. All the sun shades can be controlled by the driver. If you've got kids, you never have to be shamed with the discount store sunshade announcing to the world that you've lost your man card. The S-class will shield their eyes and your pride all at the same time.
There are six combinations of leather to choose from for the interior. There are only three colors of leather, but each color has a premium choice, which just means the cows used to make the seats are younger (could be true).
The exterior is equally fantastic. The lines are subtle and regal. If I ever come to power of a third world country, I simply must have an (armored) S-class as my dictatorial limousine. Gaddafi can keep his oddball Fiat 500; I want an S-class.
The wheels are 18 inch alloys that are modern enough no one will make fun of you and conservative enough that you won't lose friends over them. The chrome dual exhaust tips would add to the  "Yes, I did spend a lot of money on this car" feeling, if you didn't find them on Hyundais nowadays.
The headlights are Xenon, which illuminate well -- for the area they cover. It seems even Mercedes hasn't figured out how to solve the sharp-edged look to the light field. There are nine exterior color options, but they're all bland. No citrus yellow or Ectoplasm green -- ballers will just have to take their Benzes to one of the many custom shops willing to pimp it.
Most of the features that really make this car special are in the interior and the driving experience. The exterior of this executive chariot needs to be understated, and it is. For those who like a little more spice, but still want the Mercedes ownership experience, there is always the CLS, or any of the AMG-tuned models.
The S400 hybrid comes with a 295hp, premium-only 3.5L V6 gas engine and a battery powered electric motor. The V6 is smooth and has sufficient power to move the Merc's heft without feeling like it's working too hard, but when you summon all she's got (Scotty!), the electric motor adds its significant torque to the V6's grunt, to rocket you through traffic.
As with all "proper" luxury steeds, the rear wheels are solely responsible for transmitting all of the torque to the road. Rear wheel drive would be a hassle if it snows, but that's why you also bought a $30k "beater" ML500, right? Nah! We get 3 to 5 hefty snow storms (3 to 8 inches each) a year, but the S400 has all of the latest electronic gizmos to keep you on the straight and narrow. Unless you find yourself plowing through deep stuff, you'll get there safely.  There is a feature to raise the chassis of the S-class if the white stuff gets too deep.
The safety feature that I didn’t get to try out due to the sun being up was the night vision system for night driving.  I could care less whether it works or not.  You get to walk into any business meeting, party, or opera (it is a dying art…) and say that your car can see at night.  Trump card (high falsetto voice)!
This particular S-class is not for hooligans. A hybrid is meant for smooth and reserved driving, and that is where it felt most comfortable. The hybrid drive is so seamless that it was impossible to tell which combination of gas and electrons was being used to move the car at any given time without studying the gauges. Luckily for the curious (like me --normally), you can choose to display an infographic on the media center that will tell you exactly when each motor is working. Sherlock Holmes wouldn't need the graphic and I never turned it on -- there are far better ways to entertain yourself in the S400.
$98,000 is a bit of money to pay for a car whose most advanced feature was pioneered on a cheap Toyota. But in this S-class, you get world-class. Everything you encounter feels like it costs as much as you paid for it. No other piddling car on the road is your equal, except another S-class. But with the hybrid drive, you're helping the environment as well (a bit -- 26 mpg highway isn't exactly Prius territory, but stomps all but the Europe-only diesel model), so you can lord your world-wise conscience over even your fellow S-class drivers.
In this car, you're driving the pinnacle of the pinnacle of finely-tuned German engineering.
With baby cows on the seats.

October 28, 2011

Reverse Colonization

I'm going to try and make it across the pond!  Since we don't have a budget at Every Man's I'm asking for some help.  Please do not feel obligated because this site is here to inform and entertain, not to bleed your wallet. 

Backstory:  I always assume no one actually reads this stuff, I applied for a press credential to Top Gear Live in London.  Turns out the P.R. firm in charge thinks the site looks legitimate and has granted a pass to the  shows on November 26th & 27th.  Here's a link of Jeremy Clarkson and James May discussing Top Gear Live.  They of course go on to talk about everything else Top Gear, but they are not known for their silence.

Our goal is $2,000!  15% of that has already come in from one donor!  If you donate you are helping offset the cost of airfare, passport, accommodations, and a little food.  I can stand to lose a couple pounds over four days... 

Thank you again for all your support!

Edited- I've now got a number of items on Craigslist, so don't think that I'm not trying to help too.  We're definitely trying to make this happen!

October 27, 2011

Not Validation, but made us feel great!

I sent an email a while ago to Performance P.R., that's handling the press for the Top Gear Live Stadium shows in England.  I figured I would see if I counted as "media."

Turns out I do.  This is the e-mail I received this morning. 

Thank you for your recent application for Press Accreditation to Top Gear Live Show. We are pleased to let you know that we have accredited 
Names:            Chris Tracy
For Date.         November 26th and 27th @ London ExCel

On arrival please go to the press office to collect your pass. Please note that this is a silver pass which gives you a seat in the live action arena, access to the exhibition, standing access to the track and an official Top Gear Publication. 

Doors open at 09.30am and your Live Arena show time is 12.00.  Please note that there is no behind the scenes access and no photography or filming in the Live Action Arena.  Thank you for your interest in Top Gear Live.

Cool, huh?

I don't even think my passport is current.  It's nice to know that Every Man's counts as media.  If only we made some money doing this, we could afford the trip.  Oh well, back to the car reviews!

October 26, 2011

Mini Coupe S

Most of you will remember the convertible Mini that I drove during the Summer Car series.  This is not the same kind of Mini.  After the flop of the Clubman, Mini was looking for new models to expand its brand.  Enter the Countryman (review to follow).  The Countryman has done well for a model other than the original Hatchback.  One of my favorite authors, John Scalzi, has a Countryman and absolutely loves it.  Fiat got J-Lo; Mini could have a science fiction writer if they wanted…  The relative success of the Countryman inspired Mini to go ahead with plans for the 2012 Mini Cooper S Coupe.

The look of the Coupe is striking.  It is an inch shorter in overall vehicle height than the Hatchback.  Not only is the roof shorter, there’s no back seat, but still enough room in the trunk for golf clubs or a week’s supply of groceries.  The sloped roof line makes this Mini look fast standing still.  The headlamps have the same distinctive Mini look and every component is out of the Hatchback parts bin, except the roof and rear spoiler.

The media center is the same.  It's not the easiest to use.  When I'm in a car for the first time, the car is running and rolling immediately.  Others take the time to set radio stations, mirrors, steering wheel, etc.  They all write for legitimate auto review outlets, so you won't have to worry about reading their work here... 
I’m not a huge fan of the massive speedometer in the middle of the car and in fact never really looked at it.  The tachometer has a digital speedo in the middle of the information center and that’s where I look to get my speed.  There is a button for interior lighting.  Two small LEDS up by the rearview mirror can be changed to match your mood.  It was a gray day and I was driving a small sports car, so I matched the paint scheme (Blue is my second favorite car color.).
                Without a back seat, there was plenty of room for the driver and front passenger.  This would not be a bad road trip car for you and a reasonably-sized friend. 
                The pedals are chrome with black accents to make sure your feet don’t slip off the pedals.  The accelerator goes to the floor easily under my regular size 12’s.  The pedals of the Mini make me wonder what I’m doing wrong in the Porsches I’ve been in.  I find it hard to believe that there is so much less room in a Porsche than a Mini Coupe.
                The one drawback in the interior is the visibility out the back.  The back glass is fairly small and over 50mph the spoiler raises to maintain down force on the back.  The down force is really nice to have, but the spoiler cuts out a third of the rear visibility.  There is a switch to keep the spoiler up all the time, but there isn’t an option for keeping it down all the time.

After taking the Coupe on a short road trip looking for the Ferrari Club of America’s local chapter, I happened onto some curvy, twisty roads (very European).  The Coupe handled the corners well.  The speed limit could have been exceeded if you weren't paying attention.  I loved moving through the gear box.  Every stop sign and stoplight was another excuse to start in first and see how fast I could get to the speed limit.  It didn’t take long…  The Coupe comes with the same 1.6L turbo-charged four cylinder engine as the Hatchback and the Countryman.  The turbo helps this engine turn out 180 horsepower while averaging 27 city and 35 highway.  The 0-60 time isn’t anything to write home about at 6.5 sec, but the turbo makes sure that you are never underpowered.  If you spring for an extra $6,600, you can shave another .4 seconds by driving the John Cooper Works edition (known as the Works).  To me that’s a lot of money for just.4 seconds, especially since there are not a lot of places to really open up the little four-banger.  On my test drive, I spent a while looking for a small country airport that might let me out of the runway real quick, just to open it up…  No dice. 
                The ride of the Coupe was “sporty.”  This is not a luxury cruiser.  This little car is tuned and ready to hit some corners at speed.  The Coupe has a sport button like the rest of the Mini’s and I immediately found and press this button.  All 180 horses really pull this car around.  There isn’t a lot of weight to the car, which makes it seem faster than it is.  The best part is once the engine warms up with every shift there is exhaust pop.  It sounds fantastic and guttural; like an angry machine warning all other vehicles to stay back. 

                The Coupe base price is $24,600; $1,500 over the Hatchback price.  That's more money for a sloped roof and a spoiler.  Plus the Coupe weighs more than its Hatchback brothers.  If I was forced to go for a Mini, it would probably be the Countryman because of functionality.  The acceleration would be slower since it’s a bigger car, but you don’t buy a Mini because it’s fast in a straight line.  All Mini’s handle well and the Countryman has an option for four wheel drive.  Mini’s are already a niche market that now has some competition from the Fiat 500, but the Germans (Mini) continue to bring sportier versions to the States.  Fiat needs to get their Abarth version here soon.  In the spring Mini is unleashing the Mini Cooper S Roadster (Convertible Coupe) and I can’t wait to get my hands on one of those! In fact I told Mini USA, I’d drive one down all of Route 66.  Chicago to LA in a sporty roadster!  What could be better?!?!  Mini has other plans sadly…

Thank you to Baron Mini for loaning us the Cooper S Coupe.
Mini has a string of ads for the Coupe.  Here's one that entertained me...

October 18, 2011

Camaro SS Convertible

Does this intimidate anyone else?

My main objections to the 2011 Camaro SS Coupe were the visibility from the driver’s seat and the nonexistent head room.  We understand that no one sets out to make a bad car and that the 2011 is still a really fun car to drive in a straight line.  Being the optimist that I am (Stop your snickering…) I tried to find a way to eliminate the issues that bothered me about the Coupe. 

Enter the 2012 Camaro SS Convertible!  If head room and visibility are the issue, then just get rid of the roof.  The folks at McCarthy Chevrolet were generous enough to lone us a red 2SS convertible for a couple of hours on a gorgeous early autumn day; low 70’s, slight breeze, leaves falling, roaring V8, and 426 horsepower.  Who could ask for more?  A closed course would have been one improvement.  I wasn’t speeding and spent most of the day focusing on not tailgating.

Yes, this picture was taken at 75mph!
                The interior of the 2012 hasn’t changed compared to the 2011.  This one felt a little more utilitarian and bland than the 2011.  The instrument information centers were the same, except the Heads Up Display (HUD) was much better on this model.  The HUD has some arrow buttons to move it up and down on the windscreen to make sure that all drivers can see it. 
The auxiliary gauges are still down behind the gear shift, but who cares.  I didn’t look at the gauges at all.  If the engine would have sputtered or started to smell hot then I would have a reason to check the temp., oil pressure, battery charge... I forget what else is down there.  There are a couple of cup holders in between the driver and passenger seats that did a great job of holding my smart phone.
 Other than the cup holders, there isn’t a place for your phone.  There is a console, but I don’t suggest placing your phone there, since it means looking down, opening the console, still looking down as you search for the phone, rear-ending the car in front of you, and then finally looking up after you looked at the phone to see who is calling.
The perfect go-fast interior, all attention outside of it.
The media center controls were very friendly.  At stoplights, I could easily navigate between different radio stations, the CD, and the auxiliary input.  Changing the equalizer settings was simple and straight forward.  Classic Rock felt appropriate for a car born in the 60’s.  This car had the upgraded sound system that you could hear over wind noise with ease at 75mph.

                Nothing has changed on the exterior of the 2012.  I am still infatuated with the predatory shark gills near the rear wheels.  There are LED halo rings around the headlamps that make this car look like it’s always watching you.  Between the rear spoiler, the hood scoop, and the gills this car looks like a wolf pack of one (That’s right, I will sink as low as Hangover quotes!).  The taillights are distinctive.  Every now and then I catch a glimpse of taillights that remind me of the Camaro, but it ends up being a Kia Forte.  Probably what Kia was shooting for, but at least I’m thinking "was that a Camaro" and not “was that a Kia?”

                Eighty percent of this test drive was spent with the radio off.  The 6.2L V8 was a symphony of angry American muscle.  The 16 city and 24 highway are a little low, but what you lose in mileage, you gain in exhilaration.  After getting comfortable with the stiff, short gearbox, the SS headed for the highway all by itself.  Where I quickly discovered that a 0-60 time of 5 seconds is a definite reality.  The Camaro jumps off the line.  The car isn’t squirrelly though.  There is Electronic Stability Control (Traction Control) on every Chevy model.  I only had it turned off a couple of times because the road I ended up on was demanding and I had no desire to owe anyone $40,000 at the end of the day.  Hitting the ESC off once turns off the traction control; hitting it twice turns everything off and puts the car in “Track mode.”  It says so on the information center.  If only I had a track handy…
                After the time on the highway, the Camaro founds its way onto K-5 west of 435 (Lakeside Speedway is really close, but they weren’t expecting visitors at noon on a Friday…).  If you have never driven to Leavenworth on K-5, it’s a learning experience.  The speed limits are 35mph to 55mph, but the corners and hills are blind and tight.  The gear box was in third or fourth for a majority of the drive and had more than enough power. The only down side to this route is that if you get caught behind someone not looking for an exhilarating driving experience, you’re stuck.  There was “A” passing zone.  This is where the classic rock helped pass the time.
                The Camaro didn’t disappoint on the tight corners.  The issue of the previous test was visibility and that wasn’t an issue at all.  All 426 horses were responsive and ready at all times.  After the tight roads, the highway entrance ramp was a welcome sight.   The V8 roared onto the highway.  If there had been more gas in it, I would have been headed to Topeka and the 75mph speed limit. 
                I’m glad that I got a second test with the Camaro SS.  The first test had left a bit of a sour taste in my mouth with the huge blind sections and no headroom.  This test made me realize how absolutely freeing all 426 horses could be, as long as there’s a gas station nearby.  This test also showed me that the Camaro isn’t just a straight line muscle car.  It really did handle the corners well.  If I added much more speed, the only way around the corners would have been in a drift.  To have this one for your own you have to part with over $40,000.  The iconic look, the power, and the wind hair make this car one for my wish list. 

I wonder what a GT 500 is like to drive…